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Justice Department says Equal Rights Amendment deadline has passed, fight continues

Eddie Burkhalter

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The U.S. Department of Justice’s opinion is that the deadline has passed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, a finding supported by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. 

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala, and others, however, say the protections for women are needed, and Alabama’s fight against its passage is misguided.  

The Equal Rights Amendment, if ratified by a 38th state, would ban discrimination based on sex. Proponents of the amendment hope that Virginia’s new Democratic majority means a second chance for the protections for women. 

The 38-page DOJ opinion released Monday received praise from the amendment’s opponents who say its passage would give courts too much power, but a vote to ratify remains likely in Virginia and would set the stage for an all but certain court battle. 

“We conclude that Congress had the constitutional authority to impose a deadline on the ratification of the ERA and, because that deadline has expired, the ERA Resolution is no longer pending before the States,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney General Steven Engel in the opinion. 

Congress passed the amendment in 1972 and five years later it was ratified by 35 states, but the deadline to gain the needed 38 states passed in 1979, so Congress extended the deadline to 1982. 

Nevada in 2017 became the 36th state to ratify it, and was followed by Illinois in 2018. 

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Democratic wins in Virginia’s House and Senate revived hope among the amendment’s supporters, and the state’s Gov. Ralph Northam supports ratification. 

The Equal Rights Amendment text states:  

Section 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

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Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

“The DOJ opinion reaffirms that understanding and sets forth why the ERA expired in 1979 when the deadline passed without ratification from three-fourths of the States,” Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement Wednesday. 

Marshal in December joined attorneys general for Louisiana and South Dakota if filing a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama asking the federal court to rule that the time to ratify the amendment has expired. 

“If this constitutional bait-and-switch is successful, there will be dire consequences for the rule of law,” Marshall said in a statement in December. 

Both the House and Senate have introduced bills to remove the deadline and restart the process of ratification, and supporters of such say the original amendment contains no deadline and the Constitution does not require one, but that the deadline was only added in a joint resolution after the fact. 

Rep. Terri Sewell in a message to APR on Thursday expressed support for ERA’s ratification. Sewell is one of 224 lawmakers to have cosponsored the House bill to remove the deadline. 

“It is disgraceful that nearly 100 years after women fought for and won the right to vote, our equality as enshrined in the U.S. Constitution remains a matter of contention. As an Alabamian, I am particularly saddened by our state’s role in attempting to block the Equal Rights Amendment’s ratification,” Sewell said in the statement. “While I am deeply disappointed in the DOJ’s decision, I am proud to cosponsor H.J.Res.79, which seeks to strike the ERA deadline. There should be no deadline on equality.”

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, in a statement sent to APR Thursday from a spokeswoman, also supported the amendment’s ratification.

“Senator Jones supports ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment and believes it would be a strong statement of support for the women of our state for Alabama to do so,” said Caroline Stonecipher, Jones’s press secretary, in the message.

 If Virginia lawmakers do ratify the ERA, Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring has said he’s ready to fight to ensure the protections are afforded to women.  

“It is wholly unsurprising that the Trump Administration has found yet another way to oppose women’s equality,” Herring said in a statement Wednesday. “The ERA should have been passed by Virginia and other states a long time ago. It should have been unanimous. Women in America deserve to have equality guaranteed in the Constitution. The fact that Republican attorneys general are suing to block the ERA, and that they now have the support of the Trump Administration, is absolutely repugnant.

“When Virginia becomes the 38th state to ratify the ERA I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that the will of Virginians is carried out and the ERA is added to our Constitution, as it should be,” Herring said. 

Lilly Ledbetter,  the Jacksonville resident whose fight for equal pay for women resulted in the Little Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, told APR on Thursday that the Equal Rights Amendment should have already been passed. 

Ledbetter sued Goodyear tire plant in Gadsden after learning that she’d been underpaid for years as a manager compared to her male management colleagues. An Alabama court agreed with Ledbetter, but Goodyear appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that she’d waited too long to file a complaint under the Equal Pay Act of 1963. 

Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter ACT into law nine days after his inauguration, which allows women to file a claim at the time they discover they’ve been underpaid, removing the deadline to file shortly after the underpayment occurred. 

Ledbetter said she’ll travel to Virginia later this month to participate in a march in support of the amendment’s ratification.  

I support ERA and believe all women’s lives would be better if this had been passed years ago,” Ledbetter said.

 

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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Courts

U.S. Attorney Jay Town announces resignation

Eddie Burkhalter

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U.S. Attorney Jay Town announced his resignation Friday. (WHNT)

Jay Town, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, on Friday announced his resignation and plans to work at a Huntsville defense contractor and cybersecurity solutions company. 

Town’s resignation will be effective Wednesday, July 15, according to a press release. 

“After much thoughtful prayer and great personal consideration, I have made the decision to resign as the United States Attorney of the Northern District of Alabama.  I have tendered my resignation to Attorney General William Barr. General Barr expressed his gratitude for my service to the Department of Justice and to the Northern District and, despite having hoped I would continue in my role, understood and respected my decision,” Town said in a statement. 

“I am extremely grateful to President Trump, to whom I also tendered a letter, for his special trust and confidence in me to serve as the U.S. Attorney. It was an honor to be a part of this Administration with an unrivaled class of United States Attorneys from around the nation.  I will forever remain thankful to those who supported my nomination and my tenure as the U.S. Attorney,” Town continued.

Town said his job with the unnamed Huntsville defense contractor and cybersecurity solutions company is to begin later this year, and the company is to announce his position “in a few weeks.” 

“The Attorney General of the United States will announce my replacement in the coming days or weeks,” Town said in the release.  

Town has served in his position since confirmation by the U.S. Senate in August 2017. Prior to that appointment, Town was a prosecutor in the Madison County District Attorney’s office from 2005 until 2017.

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Attorney General William Barr in a statement Friday offered gratitude for Town’s three years of service. 

“Jay’s leadership in his District has been immense.  His contributions to the Department of Justice have been extensive, especially his work on the China Initiative and most recently as a Working Group Chair on the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice. I appreciate his service to our nation and to the Justice Department, and I wish him the very best,” Barr said in a statement.

The U.S. Justice Department in April 2019 notified Gov. Kay Ivey that the department’s lengthy investigation into the state’s prisons for men found systemic problems of violence, sexual assaults, drugs and corruption which are likely violations of the inmates’ Constitutional protections from cruel and unusual punishment. 

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Town’s office leads the discussions between the U.S Department of Justice and the state on the prison conditions. 

Problems with violence, deaths and drugs in Alabama’s overcrowded, understaffed prisons have not markedly improved in the year’s since the U.S. Department of Justice released its report.

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National

Commissioner praises prison employees for putting lives on the line during pandemic

Brandon Moseley

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ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn on Thursday praised the department’s employees for “literally putting their lives on the line” coming into work during the COVID-19 crisis. Dunn was speaking to the Alabama State Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee, which is holding budget hearings in Montgomery.

“I cannot praise them enough,” Dunn said. “They are going into the facility knowing that it (the coronavirus) is there. Not just our corrections officers but also our healthcare workers.”

“Many of our workers are single moms,” Dunn said. “We have several families where both the husband and wife work for the department and they have children and they are coming to work each day.”

“188 of our staff have self-reported” being coronavirus positive, Dunn said. “109 of them have already been able to return to work. That is a tribute to the dedication of our staff. Unfortunately, we have had two employee deaths.”

“We are working on an expanded testing protocol, so we can eventually test the entire inmate population and can offer testing to our staff,” Dunn said. Employees also have the option of going to their doctor for testing.

“To this point we have tested 523 inmates, 2 percent of our population, and that number will continue to expand,” Dunn assured legislators.

Dunn said COVID-19 has negatively impacted ADOC’s efforts to hire more corrections officers. They have had to cancel job fairs and some new officer trainings due to the coronavirus shutdown. Dunn assured the senators that there has been progress in addressing the staffing issues that have been cited in a lawsuit in federal court.

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Dunn said that to this point in 2020, ADOC has had a net increase of 150 corrections officers. The Department has made 455 new hires, but has lost 305 due to attrition for a net gain of 150.

Dunn showed a graph to the state Senators showing that the number of corrections officers working at ADOC peaked at around 2,000 in 2011. Since then the number of officers has declined precipitously dropping to as low as 1100, before beginning to rise in the last year.

“Our hiring efforts have been slowed down by COVID-19,” Dunn explained

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Dunn said that they are talking with many candidates who are interested once their unemployment runs out. “We have a whole pool of folks who are waiting and seeing.”

“We always understood that this was going to be a process,” Dunn told Senators.

“Our personnel budget next year is $300 million,” Dunn said. “We have reduced our overtime over $300,000 this year. We have a much tighter management control over that. Part of that reduction is due to the increase in staffing.

Committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, told Dunn, “The over is a very sensitive matter.”

Dunn said that any savings from reducing overtime is being used to pay for the new hires.

Dunn said that the prisons are currently operating at 155 percent capacity. Dunn predicted that once the state builds the three new mega-prisons currently in the bid process that ADOC will be operating at 120 to 125 percent capacity. Dunn said that the state has determined from the California case that 137 percent capacity is right at about the line where the federal courts would intervene. ADOC has set the capacity goal at 120 to 125 percent to have a buffer percentage.

ADOC is funded in the State General Fund (SGF) budget. Alabama has an arcane budgeting system where over 90 percent of state funds are earmarked and there are two separate budgets: the SGF and the state education trust fund budget (ETF). Alabama historically has underfunded its prisons and has long neglected its aging prison infrastructure.

COVID-19 remains a very serious problem in Alabama. 2,064 Alabamians were reported positive on Thursday and another ten died, taking Alabama’s death toll to 1,042.

 

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Congress

Rogers leads Homeland Security Committee Republicans

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Mike Rogers.

Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, on Thursday delivered an opening statement highly critical of the Chinese government at a Homeland Security Committee hearing in Washington entitled “Examining the National Response to the Worsening Coronavirus Pandemic.”

“I appreciate you granting my request to allow Members to use the hearing room today,” Rogers said. “We should be conducting our important oversight and legislative business here in Washington. We are much more productive when Members are here, in person, doing our work together. We’ve already proven we can do it safely. I hope we will return to regular order as soon as possible.”

“As you know, I strongly disagree with the Speaker’s unilateral decision to shut down the House of Representatives,” Rogers explained. “We should be conducting our important oversight and legislative business here in Washington. We are much more productive when Members are here, in person, doing our work together. We’ve already proven we can do it safely. I hope we will return to regular order as soon as possible.”

“As I said before, our hearts go out to those who have lost their loved ones to COVID-19 and those who are currently undergoing treatment,” Rogers continued. “COVID-19 is an unprecedented global pandemic that requires an unprecedented response.”

Rogers was highly critical of the Chinese government and their role in the global pandemic.

“Unfortunately, we lost precious time early in the response when China hid the disease from the world,” Rogers said. “For weeks the Chinese Communist Party refused entry to outside medical experts. The Chinese suppressed journalists from reporting. Worst of all, China deliberately withheld evidence of the virus’ structure and deadly spread. During this, the Chinese hoarded life-saving medical supplies and encouraged foreign travel, seeding the virus across the globe. I want to commend Ranking Member McCaul’s work on the Foreign Affairs Committee to extensively document this deadly cover-up in a recent report.”

“It’s clear that China has pulled out all the stops to manipulate everyone from media outlets to the World Health Organization,” Rogers continued. “The WHO maintained for months that China had promptly self-reported COVID-19. They did not. And after months of lying the WHO has come clean. The WHO now says it found out about COVID from media reports and whistleblowers from China. The Chinese Communist Party once again has been caught with blood on its hands.”

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“Facing an extraordinary public health crisis and China’s deadly coverup, the Trump Administration has responded with a whole of government response,” Rogers stated. ”To date, the Administration has – Prohibited the entry of travelers from global hot spots; Invoked the Defense Production Act to increase supplies of critically needed medical equipment, such as ventilators; Coordinated the delivery of over 167 million respirators, 682 million surgical masks, and 17 billion gloves; Sent over $125 billion to the states to support the medical response to COVID-19; Distributed over $500 billion in PPP loans to small business; and Helped facilitate the testing of over 36 million tests. In fact, we are now capable of conducting over 700,000 tests per day. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the number of positive tests are rising in many areas. That’s why it’s so important for all Americans to continue to heed the advice of our federal, state, and local public health officials.”

“I am pleased to see a couple of public health and emergency response officials on the panel today,” Rogers said. “Colonel Hastings currently serves as the Director of Alabama’s Emergency Management Agency. He had a very distinguished 30 year career in the Air Force. For the last 3 years, he has done a tremendous job leading EMA’s response to several natural disasters and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Colonel, thank you for joining us today. I appreciate all the witnesses for appearing. I look forward to hearing how you all are using the emergency funding and resources provided by Congress and the Administration to respond to this crisis.”

“I am also interested in knowing what more Congress can do to help you effectively respond,” Rogers said. “Our country has faced outbreaks of serious disease in the past. In each case, we’ve marshalled our collective resources and ingenuity to overcome the crisis. I’m confident that will be the case with COVID-19.

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Rogers is the ranking member of the House Homeland Committee.

More than three million Americans have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including more than 48,000 Alabamians. The novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, shows no sign of slowing anytime soon as 61,864 Americans were diagnosed just on Wednesday. The virus was first identified late in 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China late in 2019. The first positive test for the virus in Alabama was in mid-March.

Rogers represents Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District.

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Congress

Perry Hooper endorses Tuberville

Brandon Moseley

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Former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr., Trump National Victory committee member, formally endorsed former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville for U.S. Senate on Thursday.

“I have known Coach Tommy Tuberville since he first arrived at Auburn in 1999,” Hooper said. “Since day one when I went to watch my sons practice football, he was always talking to me about Republican Party Politics. I knew it was in his blood. Little did I know at the time, I would be joining the President in supporting him for the United States Senate.”

“Coaching football is more about leadership than X’s and O’s,” Hooper continued. “Tommy’s leadership abilities were the first thing that impressed me when we first met. He has been places recruiting that few people running for office have. He has been in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, convincing Mommas how he was going to help mold their 17 years old sons into men. He really cares about everyday people and what is best for our neighborhoods and schools. He has been a great teacher of life lessons as well as an outstanding football coach. He brought in former Auburn Linebacker Chette Williams to serve as the Auburn football team chaplain. He is a dedicated Christian and dedicated to his family which includes his former players. This is what this country needs now – leaders not career politicians.”

“Tommy Tuberville is a principled, free market conservative who has the support of President Trump and has put together a great campaign to defeat Doug Jones,” said David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth PAC “President Trump’s endorsement is by far the most important endorsement a candidate can earn for a Republican Primary, and we are glad to join President Trump in supporting Tommy Tuberville.”

Club for Growth PAC has been strongly supporting Tommy Tuberville for Senate and Barry Moore and Bill Hightower in the Second and First Congressional Districts.

During these turbulent times, the President needs Tommy Tuberville on his team.,” Hooper said. “As the President stated in his endorsement “Tommy Tuberville loves his country and will never let it down”. He is 100 % behind the President and the Trump Agenda. He could easily have retired after his long successful football career, but there is one more chapter in his life – serving in the US Senate. He has been a winner on and off the football field; as Senator he will be a big win for America and Alabama.”

Hooper is a member of the Alabama Republican Executive Committee and a strong supporter of Auburn University athletics.

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Tuberville faces former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, July 14, in the Republican primary runoff. The winner of the Republican nomination will face incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, in the Nov. 3 general election.

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